Raising Arizona is a 1987 American crime comedy film written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars Nicolas Cage as H.I. "Hi" McDunnough, an ex-convict, and Holly Hunter as Edwina "Ed" McDunnough, a former police officer and his wife. Other members of the cast include Trey Wilson, William Forsythe, John Goodman, Frances McDormand, Sam McMurray, and Randall "Tex" Cobb.

Raising Arizona
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Coen
Written by
Produced byEthan Coen
CinematographyBarry Sonnenfeld
Edited byMichael R. Miller
Music byCarter Burwell
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 13, 1987 (1987-03-13)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5.5 million[1]
Box office$29.2 million[2]

The Coen brothers set out to work on the film with the intention of making a film as different from their previous film, the dark thriller Blood Simple, as possible, with a lighter sense of humor and a faster pace.[3] Raising Arizona received mixed reviews at the time of its release. Some criticized it as too self-conscious, manneristic, and unclear as to whether it was fantasy or realism. Other critics praised the film for its originality.[4]

The film ranks 31st on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list, and 45th on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" list. Raising Arizona was released in the United States on March 13, 1987.

Plot edit

Convenience store robber Herbert ("H.I." or "Hi") McDunnough meets police officer Edwina ("Ed") when she takes his mugshot after each of several arrests in Tempe, Arizona. He eventually learns that Ed's fiancé has left her and proposes after being released from prison. They marry and move into a desert mobile home, and Hi gets a job in a machine shop. They want children, but Ed is infertile and they cannot adopt due to Hi's criminal record.

Hi and Ed learn of the quintuplet sons born to regional furniture magnate Nathan Arizona. They kidnap one of the babies, whom they believe to be Nathan Jr., intending to start a family. Soon afterward, Hi's former cellmates Gale and Evelle Snoats escape from prison and visit the couple. They persuade Hi to shelter them and tempt him to return to his former life of crime. That night, Hi has an intense nightmare of monstrous biker Leonard Smalls.

Hi's foreman Glen visits with his large and unruly family on the next day. Glen and wife Dot offer parenting advice amid their children's misbehavior, but when Glen suggests that he and Hi exchange wives, Hi punches Glen in the face. That night, Hi succumbs to the temptation to rob a convenience store while buying diapers, leading to a chase with police and a pack of dogs that he manages to outrun. As Ed and Nathan Jr. sleep, Hi decides to leave his family to join Gale and Evelle in a bank robbery.

Glen returns the next morning to fire Hi, revealing his inference that Hi and Ed kidnapped Nathan Jr. Glen threatens to turn them in unless they agree to give the baby to him and Dot. Overhearing this exchange, Gale and Evelle overpower Hi and kidnap Nathan Jr. themselves. As Hi and Ed resolve to rescue him, Smalls approaches Nathan Sr. and reveals himself as a bounty hunter. When Nathan Sr. rejects Smalls' offer to bring back Nathan Jr. for $50,000, Smalls decides to do the job anyway and threatens to sell the baby on the black market.

Gale and Evelle grow attached to Nathan Jr. The two nearly leave him behind while robbing a convenience store, then forget him again during the bank robbery. A dye pack explodes in their stolen money sack, covering them and the getaway car interior with blue dye. The distraction allows Smalls to capture the baby before Hi and Ed arrive. In the ensuing struggle, Ed grabs Nathan Jr. while Smalls severely beats Hi. Hi ultimately pulls the pin from one of the hand grenades clipped to Smalls' vest, causing all of them to explode and kill him.

Hi and Ed sneak back into the Arizona home to return Nathan Jr. but are caught by Nathan Sr. Upon learning the reason for the kidnapping, Nathan Sr. sympathizes and decides not to report them to the authorities. Learning that Hi and Ed are considering a divorce, he suggests that they take some time to think about it first.

While sleeping beside Ed that night, Hi has a series of prophetic dreams. Gale and Evelle return to prison, having realized that they are not ready for society; Glen is arrested by a Polish-American police officer who is unamused by the ethnic jokes he tells; and Nathan Jr. becomes a high school football star after receiving a football for Christmas from a couple who chose to remain anonymous (hinted to be Hi and Ed). The dream ends far in the future, with an elderly couple enjoying a holiday visit from their many children and grandchildren. Hi ponders the possible reality of his dreams and decides that he and Ed have the ability to be good and raise a loving family. "If not Arizona, then a land not too far away...I don't know. Maybe it was Utah."

Cast edit

Production edit

Casting and conception edit

The Coen Brothers started working on Raising Arizona with the idea to make it as different as possible from their previous film, Blood Simple, by having it be far more optimistic and upbeat.[5] The starting point of scriptwriting came from the idea of the character of Hi, who has the desire to live a regular life within the boundaries of the law.[5] To create their characters' dialect, Joel and Ethan created a hybrid of local dialect and the assumed reading material of the characters, namely, magazines and the Bible.[5] In contrast to Blood Simple, the characters in Raising Arizona were written to be very sympathetic.[5] The Coens wrote the character Ed for Holly Hunter.[5] The character of Leonard Smalls was created when the Coen Brothers tried to envision an "evil character" not from their imagination, but one that the character would have thought up.[5] His name is widely thought to be a reference to the character of Lennie Small, from John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men.[citation needed] John Goodman was drawn to characters of "great feeling, [guys] who could explode or start weeping at any moment"[6] and became a frequent collaborator following his performance as Gale Snoats. The script took three and a half months to write.[5]

The film was influenced by the works of director Preston Sturges and writers such as William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor (who was known for her Southern literature; "She also has a great sense of eccentric character," Ethan Coen told one interviewer).[5] Joel and Ethan showed the completed script to Circle Films, their American distributor for Blood Simple. Circle Films agreed to finance the movie.[5] The Coens came to the set with a complete script and storyboard.[5] With a budget of just over five million dollars, Joel Coen noted that "to obtain maximum from that money, the movie has to be meticulously prepared".[5]

Filming edit

Raising Arizona was shot in ten weeks. Many crew members who had worked with Joel and Ethan on Blood Simple returned for Raising Arizona, including cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, co-producer Mark Silverman, production designer Jane Musky, associate producer and assistant director Deborah Reinisch, and film composer Carter Burwell.[5]

The relationship between actor Nicolas Cage and the Coens was respectful, but turbulent. When he arrived on-set, and at various other points during production, Cage offered suggestions to the Coen brothers, which they ignored. Cage said that "Joel and Ethan have a very strong vision and I've learned how difficult it is to accept another artist's vision. They have an autocratic nature."[7] Randall "Tex" Cobb also gave the Coens difficulty on set, with Joel noting that "he's less an actor than a force of nature ... I don't know if I'd rush headlong into employing him for a future film."[7]

Release edit

Raising Arizona was initially released in the US, three dates; A New York City premiere on March 6, 1987, a limited release on March 13, 1987 and a nationwide release on April 17, 1987. The film was also released in Argentina on March 25, 1987 before it was screened out of competition at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.[8]

Despite the cult following of their later films, such as The Big Lebowski, in 2000 Ethan Coen described their second feature as "the last movie [we] made that made any significant amount of money".[9]

Reception edit

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A terrifically original, eccentric screwball comedy, Raising Arizona may not be the Coens' most disciplined movie, but it's one of their most purely entertaining."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 69 based on 23 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

David Denby of New York wrote that the film was a "deranged fable of the New West" which turned "sarcasm into a rude yet affectionate mode of comedy".[13] Richard Corliss of Time referred to the film as "exuberantly original".[13] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post gave a positive review, stating that it was "the best kidnapping comedy since last summer's Ruthless People".[14] On the film review television show Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, critic Gene Siskel said the film was as "good looking as it is funny" and that "despite some slow patches" he recommended the film, giving it a "thumbs up".[15] Writing for The New Yorker, Pauline Kael wrote that "Raising Arizona is no big deal, but it has a rambunctious charm".[16]

Negative reviews focused on a "style over substance" view of the film. Variety wrote, "While [Raising Arizona] is filled with many splendid touches and plenty of yocks, it often doesn't hold together as a coherent story."[17] Writing for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Like Blood Simple, it's full of technical expertise but has no life of its own ... The direction is without decisive style."[18] Julie Salamon of the Wall Street Journal wrote that the Coen Brothers "have a lot of imagination and sense of fun—and, most of all, a terrific sense of how to manipulate imagery," but "by the end, the fun feels a little forced."[19] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote that "the overlooked form peels away from the slight, frail content, and the film starts to look like an episode of Hee Haw directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles".[20] Roger Ebert wrote a negative review, stating the film "stretches out every moment for more than it's worth, until even the moments of inspiration seem forced. Since the basic idea of the movie is a good one and there are talented people in the cast, what we have here is a film shot down by its own forced and mannered style."[21]

Later writings about the film have been generally positive. Both the British film magazine Empire and film database Allmovie gave the film five stars, their highest ratings.[22][23] Allmovie's Lucia Bozzola wrote, "Complete with carefully modulated over-the-top performances from the entire cast, Raising Arizona confirmed the Coens' place among the most distinctive filmmakers to emerge from the 1980s independent cinema", while Caroline Westbrook of Empire declared it a "hilarious, madcap comedy from the Coen brothers that demonstrates just why they are the kings of quirk".[23] Bilge Ebiri considers Raising Arizona to be "the Coens' masterpiece — their funniest movie, and quite possibly their most poignant as well".[24] The Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland placed its bank robbery scene second on their list of "the 5 best bank robberies in film history", behind a bank robbery scene from the 1995 thriller Heat.[25] Actor Simon Pegg described the film as "a living, breathing Looney Tunes cartoon" during a BFI screening.[26] Pegg's friend and frequent collaborator Edgar Wright has stated that Raising Arizona is his favorite film of all time. Likewise, Spike Lee put Raising Arizona on his "Essential Films" list.[27]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute:

Soundtrack edit

Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Soundtrack album by
GenreFilm score
LabelVarèse Sarabande
Coen brothers film soundtracks chronology
Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Miller's Crossing

The score to Raising Arizona is written by Carter Burwell, the second of his collaborations with the Coen brothers. The sounds are a mix of organ, massed choir, banjo, whistling, and yodeling.

Themes are borrowed from the "Goofing Off Suite", originally recorded by Pete Seeger in 1955, which includes an excerpt from the Chorale movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and "Russian Folk Themes and Yodel". Credited musicians for the film include Ben Freed (banjo), Mieczyslaw Litwinski (Jew's harp and guitar), and John R. Crowder (yodeling). Holly Hunter sings a traditional murder ballad, "Down in the Willow Garden", as an incongruous "lullaby" during the film.[30]

Selections from Burwell's score to Raising Arizona were released on an album in 1987, along with selections from the Coens' sole previous feature film, Blood Simple. The tracks from Raising Arizona constitute the first ten tracks on a 17-track CD that also features selections from the Blood Simple soundtrack.

  1. "Introduction – A Hole in the Ground" – (0:38)
  2. "Way Out There (Main Title)" – (1:55)
  3. "He Was Horrible" – (1:30)
  4. "Just Business" – (1:17)
  5. "The Letter" – (2:27)
  6. "Hail Lenny" – (2:18)
  7. "Raising Ukeleles" – (3:41)
  8. "Dream of the Future" – (2:31)
  9. "Shopping Arizona" – (2:46)
  10. "Return to the Nursery" – (1:35)

AllMusic gave the album a rating of       (4.5 out of 5).[31]

References edit

  1. ^ Cormier, Roger (March 2, 2016). "10 Law-Abiding Facts About Raising Arizona". Mental Floss. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  2. ^ "Raising Arizona (1987)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  3. ^ Chapman King, Lynnea (2014). The Coen Brothers Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 163. ISBN 978-0810885769.
  4. ^ Adams, Jeffrey (2015). The Cinema of the Coen Brothers: Hard Boiled Entertainments. New York City: Columbia University Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-0231174619.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Allen, William Rodney, ed. (2006). The Coen Brothers: Interviews. Conversations with Filmmakers. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-889-4.
  6. ^ Levine (2000), p. 52.
  7. ^ a b Levine (2000), p. 54.
  8. ^ "Raising Arizona". Festival de Cannes. Archived from the original on October 3, 2012. Retrieved July 25, 2009.
  9. ^ Levine (2000), p. 104.
  10. ^ "Raising Arizona". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 17, 2023.
  11. ^ "Raising Arizona Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved January 17, 2023.
  12. ^ "Search". Cinemascore.com.
  13. ^ a b Russell, Carolyn R. (2001). The films of Joel and Ethan Coen. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0973-8.
  14. ^ Kempley, Rita (March 20, 1987). "'Raising Arizona' (PG-13)". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  15. ^ "At the Movies: Raising Arizona". At the Movies. Season 1. Episode 24. March 14, 1987. ABC Domestic Television. Retrieved May 28, 2023.
  16. ^ Kael, Pauline (April 20, 1987). "Manypeeplia Upsidownia". The New Yorker. p. 81. Archived from the original on November 1, 2014. Raising Arizona is no big deal, but it has a rambunctious charm. The sunsets look marvelously ultra-vivid, the paint doesn't seem to be dry – it's like opening day of a miniature golf course.
  17. ^ "Raising Arizona Review". Variety. 1987. Archived from the original on June 9, 2008. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  18. ^ "Film: 'Raising Arizona,' Coen Brothers Comedy". The New York Times. March 11, 1987. p. C24. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015. Like Blood Simple, it's full of technical expertise but has no life of its own... The direction is without decisive style.)
  19. ^ Salamon, Julie (March 26, 1987). "Raising Arizona". The Wall Street Journal. These fraternal film makers have a lot of imagination and sense of fun — and, most of all, a terrific sense of how to manipulate imagery... But sometimes they seem to be getting too big a kick out of their own shenanigans. By the end, the fun feels a little forced.)
  20. ^ Kehr, Dave (March 20, 1987). "Raising Arizona". The Chicago Tribune. Quickly and fatally, the overlooked form peels away from the slight, frail content, and the film starts to look like an episode of "Hee Haw" directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles.)
  21. ^ "Raising Arizona Review". Chicago Sun Times. March 20, 1987. Archived from the original on October 27, 2005. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  22. ^ "Raising Arizona > Review". Allmovie. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  23. ^ a b Westbrook, Caroline. "Raising Arizona". Empire. Archived from the original on October 14, 2012. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  24. ^ Ebiri, Bilge (February 5, 2016). "Every Coen Brothers Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best". Vulture.com. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  25. ^ Porcelijn, Max (April 26, 2008). "The 5 Best Bank Robberies in Film History". Vrij Nederland. pp. 96–97.
  26. ^ "Raising Arizona". BFI. Archived from the original on August 11, 2016. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  27. ^ "Spike Lee's essential films list". Slate. July 26, 2013.
  28. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on January 21, 2009. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  29. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 24, 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  30. ^ Rowell, Erica (2007). The brothers Grim: the films of Ethan and Joel Coen. Scarecrow Press. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-8108-5850-3.
  31. ^ Raising Arizona/Blood Simple (Original Motion Picture Soundtracks) at AllMusic

Bibliography edit

  • Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Canada: ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55022-424-5.

External links edit